Samaritan’s Purse is still giving

Published 4:07 pm Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Two days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, the workers with Samaritan’s Purse International Relief arrived bringing their tools, their materials, and their time to start helping rebuild the devastated area.

Over 3,000 volunteers from all over the United States as well as Canada and Germany have spent time at the Kiln base at one time or another. Some of those workers are still here today, still helping with the recovery effort.

The group is led by Program Manager Havard Harris, a retired naval Master Chief who is originally from North Carolina but who now serves as a missionary. Harris has been in Mississippi for almost two years, and previously served as the operations manager for the Operation Christmas Child program based North Carolina which is also sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. He saw 7.4 million Christmas boxes placed during his time as director.

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After approaching 29 other churches in the area, the group of volunteers set up their base of operations at Bayou Talla Fellowship Church in Kiln, which is led by the Reverend Mike Wells. There are currently 12 members on staff, as well as varying numbers of volunteers.

Freda Gruys, a member at Bayou Talla, said of the volunteers, “It’s been awesome having them here. We don’t ever want them to leave.”

“As a church, we are blessed and delighted to have Samaritan’s Purse partner with us to restore and rebuild in our community. … We count it an honor that the Lord sent them our way,” said Wells.

Over the course of the past two years the group has had camps in Biloxi, Gretna, Chalmette, and Grove’s Texas.

Originally, the initial exit date from all the camps was the end of this month, but Harris said the group at Kiln will remain a little while longer because they have been funded to rebuild six more houses in the area which have already been chosen. If anyone calls for help they will be referred to other relief effort agencies.

Since arriving in 2005, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers have put in more than 130,000 labor hours to rebuild more than 200 homes, install 66 mobile homes, and build 12 playgrounds in southern Mississippi and Louisiana.

The rebuilding program consists of volunteers going into damaged homes and gutting the homes, and then repairing them so that they can be lived in.

“That’s where we go in and totally get the house back to where it’s safe, secure and sanitary. It’s not turn-key. We do it where they can get back into the house,” said Harris.

In a rebuilt home, the volunteers install flooring, but do not put in carpet or tile. They install one bathroom, provide a vanity in the bathroom and cabinets in the kitchen around the sink, and install a front and back door.

Bayou Talla member and volunteer Tom Stockman said, “We’re just trying to provide safe environments for these people. Not adding other frills means more funds for other people in need.”

The mobile homes that the group has provided are completely set up for the recipients. Volunteers install septic tanks, front and back decks, ramps if needed and water, electric and sewer hookups.

In addition to helping rebuild and providing new homes, they have performed over 1,000 “mud-outs”, which means volunteers go in and remove debris from homes in disaster areas.

The group has also supplied better than $50,000 in appliances to those in need. The funding for these appliances usually comes from grants from different churches.

Another service that the group provides is the provision of raw materials. Since arriving in the state after Katrina, the group has filled almost 200 materials requests. These materials are provided to residents who do not have a problem finding the labor, but who cannot afford the raw materials for the repair.

“God has really blessed us with so many talented people. He has blessed Samaritan’s Purse with talented people,” said Harris.

Samaritan’s Purse also provides financial assistance to local churches. “Based on their need and the ability to get their church back in working order, we provide funds. We’ve helped over 17 churches at the last count I had, in this area, here and Louisiana,” said Harris.

The Samaritan’s Purse program was founded by the late Dr. Bob Pierce in 1970. In 1979, Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, took over the program and has turned it into the successful relief program that it is today.

The program has headquarters in eight different countries, with its international headquarters in Boone, North Carolina.